Feb 10, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Sunday morning.

  • ⚡58% of black Virginians say Gov. Ralph Northam should not step down, per a Washington Post-Schar School poll.
  • 📺 Gayle King has taped Northam's first TV interview since the yearbook surfaced. It airs tomorrow on "CBS This Morning."
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1 big thing: Democratic dirt defines start of 2020

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Democratic campaigns are secretly shopping dirt on their primary rivals much earlier than usual, reflecting the high stakes of surging or sinking quickly with so many people running so early. 

  • The meltdown in Virginia politics is also infecting the race — and fueling media investigations of the candidates — with a reminder that, as one top operative put it: "Everything old is new again."

Opposition research — "oppo," as the campaigns call it — usually flies later in the campaign season.

  • One reason this underground game has begun so quickly is that most of the announced Democratic candidates serve in the Senate together. So the open attacks may come later.
  • That leaves an opening for the campaign staffs to quietly stir mischief in the media about the records, foibles and biographies of their opponents.
  • Many rival aides worked together in the past. But as one top campaign official told me: "If my friends have bad days and I have bad days, it's part of the game. ... Pretty much everyone is going to have a time in the barrel."

Republicans had four years to get ready to run again Hillary Clinton. But this year, no one knows who might eventually emerge as the Democratic nominee.

  • So the GOP is taking an equal-opportunity approach, and hitting just about any other candidates when ammo turns up.

America Rising Corp., the GOP oppo factory that works with the Republican National Committee and President Trump's super PAC, has already deployed cameras in early states to track Democratic candidates' appearances.

  • Now on America Rising's homepage ... "AUDIO: Kirsten Gillibrand: Eliminating Private Insurance Is An Urgent Goal" ... "VIDEO: Warren Won’t Admit That She Would Eliminate Private Insurance" .... "Booker Dodges" in radio interview.
  • "These are the most unknown 'known' candidates," said Joe Pounder, CEO of America Rising Corp. "They're all fair game — no one gets a free pass."

Another dynamic inflicting pain on the infant campaigns is the aggressive, competitive news environment.

  • An operative for one 2020 contender told me: "Out of the gate, the media has made these candidates eat their records in a way that has been different."
  • The Washington Post reported that "an open records request during a general inquiry" had surfaced the Texas document on which Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote her race as "American Indian."
  • And lots of digging went into back-to-back stories this week documenting longtime Senate talk of tyrannical treatment of her staff by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — who announces her 2020 plans at a rally today.
2. The Gridiron's blackface past
The Virginia State Capitol, Richmond (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The cover of today's WashPost Outlook section features a thoroughly convincing — and therefore appalling — history of how intertwined blackface was with a century of American culture.

  • "Minstrel shows were seen as all-American entertainment — more recently than you think," writes Rhae Lynn Barnes, an assistant professor of American cultural history at Princeton University, and author of the forthcoming book "Darkology: When the American Dream Wore Blackface."
  • Barnes "spent a decade poring over blackface composites from yearbooks and fraternal orders, watching cracked film footage, and cataloguing more than 10,000 blackface plays — collecting and preserving discarded programs, scrapbooks, photographs and blackface how-to guides from library sales, antique auctions and abandoned boxes outside foreclosed homes."

Barnes writes that the prevalence of blackface extended to the Gridiron Club, which today remains a prestigious organization of top Washington journalists, known for its annual dinner featuring musical skits that singe the powerful:

One of clearest examples of the relationship between American politicians and amateur blackface is the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, which a century ago might as well have been called the annual White House minstrel show. At the Gridiron Club, Theodore Roosevelt beamed when Lew Dockstader, an Elks minstrel celebrity, shuffled onstage in blackface impersonating an African American from Tuskegee University.
Newly inaugurated President William Howard Taft took his front-row seat in 1909 at what one newspaper hailed as America’s "national minstrel show" ... Perhaps the most disturbing show was in 1921, when President Warren G. Harding and the Cabinet got an "unexpected thrill when a Ku Klux Klan demonstration took place" during the dinner, as the Baltimore Sun reported it.
A "group of clansmen in hooded garb, riding hobby horses, rushed upon the scene. Out went the lights, leaving only a spotlight to illuminate the ghostly visitation." They impersonated a raid. They "seized and dragged the two shivering victims to the front" to mock interrogate them onstage.

Obviously worthy of your time.

3. Scoop ... Bob Woodward writes Jeff Bezos: "Watergate Redux"

Bob Woodward — author of "FEAR: Trump in the White House," and an associate editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1971 — wrote an email of support on Friday to Post owner Jeff Bezos, following his Medium post defying the National Enquirer:

Jeff:  Proud of you for stepping forward in such a difficult situation. Very gutsy and definitely right. This period reminds me of 1972-1974, perhaps Watergate Redux. So many assaults on constitutional government, common sense and privacy. Let's hope we all get it right — aggressive but careful and fair.  Cheers and best, Bob Woodward
Bonus: Pic du jour
Elise Amendola/AP

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made her presidential candidacy official yesterday in the industrial city of Lawrence, Mass., the Boston Globe writes:

[S]he told ... of the immigrant workers who toiled in squalid, deadly conditions in the old textile mills around her, and who launched the Bread and Roses strike of 1912 that ultimately led to higher wages and improved conditions.
4. New data: Biggest wealth gap since Roaring 20s

"The 400 richest Americans — the top 0.00025 percent of the population — have tripled their share of the nation’s wealth since the early 1980s, according to a new working paper on wealth inequality by University of California at Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman," the WashPost's Christopher Ingram reports.

  • Zucman, who advised Elizabeth Warren on her wealth tax, finds that "U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties."

"Those 400 Americans own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent of the wealth distribution, who saw their share of the nation’s wealth fall from 5.7 percent in 1987 to 2.1 percent in 2014, according to the World Inequality Database maintained by Zucman and others."

5. Scoop: Rising stars
President Trump announces in October that he has accepted Nikki Haley's resignation. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In a sign of Nikki Haley's continuing star power, the former UN ambassador will be the guest of honor at a dinner with about 20 of Manhattan's top GOP donors on Feb. 27, Axios has learned.

  • The dinner will be the first of a series being organized by Paul Singer, the hedge-fund magnate, to spotlight key surrogates for the congressional races of 2020.

Singer is working to identify and recruit female candidates to help Republicans hold the Senate and regain ground in the House. He's supporting former Rep. Elise Stefanik's E-PAC, aimed at boosting women candidates.

  • In a sign of the demand for Haley, CNBC reported that she is "quoting $200,000 and the use of a private jet for domestic speaking engagements."
6. 1 fast thing

FastPass madness ... "In an impatient nation, where real status and privilege ... are hard to come by, the fast lane is an increasingly popular perk," the Boston Globe's Beth Teitell writes:

  • "What started at airports and spread to amusement parks, highways, and the Hy-Line ferry to Nantucket has reached the pinnacle of absurdity. At the South Shore Plaza this past Christmas, Santa’s lap had a FastPass."

"This spring, ... Red Sox fans who are members of TSA’s PreCheck ... will be allowed to enter Fenway Park through a dedicated and faster gate: Gate E."

  • "[T]he Red Sox are partnering with Idemia, a France-based ... company that runs the [TSA's] expedited enrollment check-in technology."

"Idemia is planning to create a 'Trusted Fan Program' at Fenway and other ... venues":

  • "It will integrate biometric and credit card ... information and create a system that enables a fan to buy a hot dog or a cap with a simple hand wave."
  • "The information ... is shared with the partner venue, which, having learned which beer you like, ... could send push notifications alerting you that the concession stand at Section 10 is packed but there’s no line at Section 8."
Mike Allen